Global study: World not ready for aging population

Most countries not prepared to support swelling numbers of elderly people
Associated Press
Oct 1, 2013


The world is aging so fast that most countries are not prepared to support their swelling numbers of elderly people, according to a global study going out Tuesday by the United Nations and an elder rights group.

The report ranks the social and economic well-being of elders in 91 countries, with Sweden coming out on top and Afghanistan at the bottom. It reflects what advocates for the old have been warning, with increasing urgency, for years: Nations are simply not working quickly enough to cope with a population graying faster than ever before. By the year 2050, for the first time in history, seniors over the age of 60 will outnumber children under the age of 15.

Truong Tien Thao, who runs a small tea shop on the sidewalk near his home in Hanoi, Vietnam, is 65 and acutely aware that he, like millions of others, is plunging into old age without a safety net. He wishes he could retire, but he and his 61-year-old wife depend on the $50 a month they earn from the tea shop. And so every day, Thao rises early to open the stall at 6 a.m. and works until 2 p.m., when his wife takes over until closing.

"People at my age should have a rest, but I still have to work to make our ends meet," he says, while waiting for customers at the shop, which sells green tea, cigarettes and chewing gum. "My wife and I have no pension, no health insurance. I'm scared of thinking of being sick — I don't know how I can pay for the medical care."

Thao's story reflects a key point in the report, which was released early to The Associated Press: Aging is an issue across the world. Perhaps surprisingly, the report shows that the fastest aging countries are developing ones, such as Jordan, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Vietnam, where the number of older people will more than triple by 2050. All ranked in the bottom half of the index.

The Global AgeWatch Index ( was created by elder advocacy group HelpAge International and the U.N. Population Fund in part to address a lack of international data on the extent and impact of global aging. The index, released on the U.N.'s International Day of Older Persons, compiles data from the U.N., World Health Organization, World Bank and other global agencies, and analyzes income, health, education, employment and age-friendly environment in each country.

The index was welcomed by elder rights advocates, who have long complained that a lack of data has thwarted their attempts to raise the issue on government agendas.

"Unless you measure something, it doesn't really exist in the minds of decision-makers," said John Beard, Director of Ageing and Life Course for the World Health Organization. "One of the challenges for population aging is that we don't even collect the data, let alone start to analyze it. ... For example, we've been talking about how people are living longer, but I can't tell you people are living longer and sicker, or longer in good health."

The report fits into an increasingly complex picture of aging and what it means to the world. On the one hand, the fact that people are living longer is a testament to advances in health care and nutrition, and advocates emphasize that the elderly should be seen not as a burden but as a resource. On the other, many countries still lack a basic social protection floor that provides income, health care and housing for their senior citizens.

Afghanistan, for example, offers no pension to those not in the government. Life expectancy is 59 years for men and 61 for women, compared to a global average of 68 for men and 72 for women, according to U.N. data.

That leaves Abdul Wasay struggling to survive. At 75, the former cook and blacksmith spends most of his day trying to sell toothbrushes and toothpaste on a busy street corner in Kabul's main market. The job nets him just $6 a day — barely enough to support his wife. He can only afford to buy meat twice a month; the family relies mainly on potatoes and curried vegetables.

"It's difficult because my knees are weak and I can't really stand for a long time," he says. "But what can I do? It's even harder in winter, but I can't afford treatment."

Although government hospitals are free, Wasay complains that they provide little treatment and hardly any medicine. He wants to stop working in three years, but is not sure his children can support him. He says many older people cannot find work because they are not strong enough to do day labor, and some resort to begging.

"You have to keep working no matter how old you are — no one is rich enough to stop," he says. "Life is very difficult."

Many governments have resisted tackling the issue partly because it is viewed as hugely complicated, negative and costly — which is not necessarily true, says Silvia Stefanoni, chief executive of HelpAge International. Japan and Germany, she says, have among the highest proportions of elders in the world, but also boast steady economies.

"There's no evidence that an aging population is a population that is economically damaged," she says.

Prosperity in itself does not guarantee protection for the old. The world's rising economic powers — the so-called BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — rank lower in the index than some poorer countries such as Uruguay and Panama.

However, the report found, wealthy nations are in general better prepared for aging than poorer ones. Sweden, where the pension system is now 100 years old, makes the top of the list because of its social support, education and health coverage, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The United States comes in eighth.

Sweden's health system earns praise from Marianne Blomberg, an 80-year-old Stockholm resident.

"The health care system, for me, has worked extraordinarily well," she says. "I suffer from atrial fibrillation and from the minute I call emergency until I am discharged, it is absolutely amazing. I can't complain about anything — even the food is good."

Still, even in an elder-friendly country like Sweden, aging is not without its challenges. The Swedish government has suggested people continue working beyond 65, a prospect Blomberg cautiously welcomes but warns should not be a requirement. Blomberg also criticized the nation's finance minister, Anders Borg, for cutting taxes sharply for working Swedes but only marginally for retirees.

"I go to lectures and museums and the theater and those kinds of things, but I probably have to stop that soon because it gets terribly expensive," she says. "If you want to be active like me, it is hard. But to sit home and stare at the walls doesn't cost anything."



It would be wonderful, if at the age of 65,and you are still working, you no longer had to pay taxes. That big "senior moment" would be wonderful. All you life you have paid into the system and now you can sit back and take things a little easier. How nice that would be if you no longer had to worry about funding your own SSI. I could live with that one. We both paid into our social security and my husband would love to retire. I would love it too if he could do that. Perhaps a year of not paying taxes he could do it. Yep, that would be the Crowning Gloring.


Re: "Although government hospitals are free, Wasay complains that they provide little treatment and hardly any medicine."

Reads like the dismal future in the U.S. under the Progressive Democrats universal health care scheme.


SSI is NOT the same thing as SS retirement or SS disability. Totally different.

Dr. Information

World Obamacare is the answer and we MUST pay for it.


@ DI:

Dirty little secret:

The overwhelming majority of nursing home care is paid for by Medicaid, i.e. free.

The avg. yearly charge is around $80K.

The 78 million baby boomers will BANKRUPT this country.

Also, more Depends are sold in Japan than diapers - the geriatric canary in the coalmine.


That article is garbage. My mother in law died in a nursing facility.....may she R I P......and the cost to Medicaid was nowhere near 80k.


Re: "the cost to Medicaid was nowhere near 80k."

What sh*thole did you stick her in?

As I suspected: Your worthless family sucks off the teat of govt.

I have a relative in a local nursing home who is paying out of pocket and it's around $72K annually just for room and board.

Better get educated:


Sounds like your relative is even more stupid than you. How dumb to work all your life just to give your savings to a nursing home.


Re: "How dumb to work all your life just to give your savings to a nursing home."

Let someone else pay for your family's obligations eh govt. teat sucker?

It's called personal responsibility, but takers like you and your worthless family wouldn't understand.


you need a punch in the mouth.


Re: "you"

Have a nice day govt. teat sucker. :)


Ignore the drunk. I do! He does not know me or my family so his words are empty just like his head! Empty!


Re: "He does not know me or my family,"

About the only thing that I NEED to know is that your worthless family wants others to pay for your obligations.


30 million illegals and Congress have already done a pretty good job at bankrupting this country,
check out immigration for real time numbers.

BULLISDEEP's picture

That site makes me SICK. People just don't know what is going on in this country.

You should post it more often.


Aw gee, so where are all of the death panels that are supposed to be around now that the mean old black president got his affordable healthcare act passed? We really could do without these 80-90 year old slackers drawing countless of years off Social Security/Medicare. :}


Re: "We really could do without these 80-90 year old slackers drawing countless of years off Social Security/Medicare,"

You mean kinda like when dumb*ss "Doctor Obama" inferred to a woman that her elderly mother might wanna take a pill instead of getting a pacemaker?


Some want to live forever but father time is undefeated. I agree with meowmix, where are those awful death panels? Just a bunch of right wing noise.


"Death panels"?

That "Nobel Prize winning economist," that the socialists LOVE, Paul Krugman suggested that the real long term cost solution was: "death panels and sales taxes."


I must have missed that day in school when we were told that simply by living to a ripe old age we would be guaranteed a life of leisure. The truth is just the opposite: retirement requires a lot of planning, hard work and old fashioned discipline. I have been retired for ten years and still grit my teeth when I hear my "peers" complaining that their handouts aren't big enough. Most of these people were blessed with good health and the opportunity to work for 45 years in a booming economy; yet during this almost half-century of production they apparently never gave a thought to what was going to happen when they got old.

I don't normally care much for the work of the UN, but in this case I must applaud their efforts to understand the problems of aging in lesser developed countries. These people are facing problems not of their own making. But those of us who spent our lives in developed countries - especially Europe and the US - have no excuse. We were blessed with fantastic opportunities in a golden land, but many chose to live for today rather than plan for tomorrow. We are now suffering the consequences of that short-sided thinking.


@ ohioengineer:

Thanks for sharing - I agree.


I am glad I didn't miss the day we were taught that paint thinner aka Kessler's is poisonous and if you drink it anyway it will turn you into a contango!


You should have a little more appreciation for those of us that are helping to pay for your Medicaid, SSDI, SNAP and other govt. "cash and prizes."